The Forex Trading Week Ahead

05/02/2011 9:55 am EST

Focus: FOREX

Brian Dolan

Chief Currency Strategist, FOREX.com

US dollar weakness, commodity strength, and policy decisions by a number of central banks are in the spotlight this week. Here’s how these factors and others are likely to impact the currency markets.

The Fed consigned the greenback to another bout of weakness, signaling that easy policy would remain in place for the foreseeable future, and markets were only too happy to oblige, sending the USD index to lows last seen in 2008. We see little on the fundamental horizon that could alter the dollar’s downtrend at the moment, with US rates on hold and other major central banks biased toward tightening.

That leaves the market dynamic (meaning excessive USD short positioning could lead to a short squeeze) as the only obvious catalyst to a bounce in the buck, which we would view as only temporary.

Although we anticipate further USD declines in the weeks ahead, we are in no rush to sell at current levels in light of the proximity of key technical and psychological levels, like 1.5000 in EUR/USD, 80.00 in USD/JPY, and the series of 2008 lows in the USD index around 71.00-73.00 (last 72.92).

Instead, we would urge patience and look for opportunities to re-enter USD shorts, looking to buy dips in EUR/USD around 1.4450/1.4500, AUD/USD near 1.0450/1.0500, and to sell USD/CHF near 0.9850/0.9900 and USD/CAD around 0.9800/0.9850.

Finally, we would note that the current USD decline increasingly risks becoming disorderly, possibly leading to more concerted G7, and possibly even G20, action to rescue the greenback. A disorderly decline in the USD risks sending commodity prices even higher and sparking even greater inflationary pressures, which we can all do without.

As an alternative to USD shorts, we observed that carry trades (JPY crosses) failed to extend recent gains despite the strong performance of other risk assets (stocks and commodities) during the past week overall. If risk sentiment remains buoyant, which we think will be the case going in to the start of a new month, then we would expect to see JPY crosses resume gains, and we prefer to be buyers of JPY crosses on remaining pullbacks to recent lows seen early last week.

Commodities Toy with Key Psychological Levels

The sharp rise in commodities of late has been nothing short of spectacular. While silver has been the clear outperformer for the month of April, gaining over 31%, gold’s performance during the past week far surpassed “poor man’s gold,” as it rose from lows around $1495 to over $1560 at the time of this writing. This may partially be explained by those short the gold/silver ratio deciding to take profits into the end of the month.

Meanwhile, crude oil came in last of the three as it rose a still-highly-respectable 7.8% in April. At the moment, commodities are toying with key psychological levels: Gold: $1550-1600; Silver: $50; and US oil: $115-$120. So, the overwhelming questions we continue to hear are what’s causing this rise, and when will they peak?

As for what’s causing this rise, we believe a “perfect storm” has been brewing for quite some time, but is now just coming to fruition. First, and perhaps most importantly, has been the low global interest rate environment, especially in the US, leading to a renewed USD slump. This has led investors who believe “printing money” will ultimately cause inflation to seek fiat money alternatives—hard assets (commodities).

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If that wasn’t enough, growing tensions in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region saw traders flock to a flight-to-safety trade. At the end of February, we highlighted this potential in our Commodities Corner report: “With tensions in the Middle East unlikely to subside anytime soon, this flight-to-safety trade could be stronger and last longer than the market currently anticipates, subsequently traders are beginning to take action”.

Lastly, commodities have benefitted from a strong technical outlook, especially silver, which has made a true parabolic move higher.

While some may believe buying at such elevated levels could be financial suicide, we actually consider it the prudent thing to do in the current environment. Accordingly, we do not yet foresee a peak.

Last week, Bernanke, at his inaugural press conference after an FOMC announcement, made it abundantly clear that the uncertainty of the US economic recovery is likely to keep the Fed on the sidelines in 2H 2011, thus remaining accommodative until their hands are forced. Consequently, we believe the USD is likely to remain under pressure in the weeks and months ahead. While we are cautious of getting long at immediate levels this week, we would look to be rather opportunistic upon pullbacks, as the fundamental backdrop is not going to change drastically overnight. Perhaps ADP on Wednesday or NFP on Friday will give us the opportunity we seek.

Tough Decisions for the ECB

The euro zone inflation report released on Friday would have made for some uncomfortable reading at the European Central Bank (ECB). Prices are rising in the currency bloc at a 2.8% annual rate in April, up from 2.6% in March. For a central bank that has a sole mandate of price stability, then surely rates should rise to stub out inflationary pressure?

However, rising commodity prices are weighing on the inflation rate, and this is starting to erode economic confidence. Consumer, economic, industrial, and service sector confidence all moderated last month. Although confidence levels are coming off their highs, it points to a slowdown in the recovery in the euro zone, which may make some members of the ECB slightly wary about raising rates at too quick a pace.

Following Thursday’s ECB meeting, we will see what wins out between the inflation/growth fight. Right now the market is looking for another rate hike late in the summer and Euribor rates and Eonia- euro swap rates remain at elevated levels.

If the ECB remains as committed to price stability as it says it is, then we could hear ECB President Trichet use the code words “strong vigilance” to signal a rate hike slightly earlier at the next meeting in June.

This would sit alongside the fairly hawkish rhetoric coming from ECB members in recent weeks. Last week, Luxembourg central bank chief Mersch said that policy has to be decided for the region as a whole, rather than for individual countries. This suggests that the ECB may not consider the concerns that Greece may have to default on some of its giant debt load in the near future.

Peripheral bond markets came under heavy selling pressure last week with Portuguese and Greek bond yields reaching euro-era highs. Greek two-year bond yields are now above 26% and Italy and Spain have also had to pay a higher risk premium to investors at recent debt auctions.

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A combination of high interest rates and an elevated euro are all likely to weigh on growth in the peripheral economies. EUR/USD surged 2.5% last week alone as the Federal Reserve sounded fairly committed to low interest rates at its meeting last week. 1.5000 is now within easy reach and could possibly see even 1.6000 next.

At these levels, the euro could start to hurt exports at exactly the wrong time. The Spanish deputy finance minister spoke on Friday after the Spanish unemployment rate reached a 14-year high of 21.29% in March and retail sales slumped by 7.9%, saying that exports will be the key to the Spanish economic recovery. But this won’t be possible if European goods become less competitive on the global market.

While the EUR/USD has surged 10% since the start of this year, the single currency is up 9.5% versus the Chinese renminbi, a major market for European exporters. Thus, the ECB also needs to weigh up the impact of an imminent rate hike on the already elevated exchange rate.

So watch out on Thursday, firstly for the phrase “strong vigilance,” and secondly, if Trichet makes any reference to the strength of the single currency.

UK Recovery Looks Half-Hearted

If members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) were waiting for an update of the first quarter growth figures before making up their minds about hiking interest rates, then the 0.5% expansion was fairly lackluster.

At the start of the year, a rate hike at this week’s meeting was nearly fully priced in, but that has been reversed. Signs of a flagging recovery, a negative growth reading at the end of 2010, and signs that Bank of England (BOE) Governor King remains intent on holding rates steady in the months ahead have all dampened interest rate expectations.

Market watchers will now wait for economic signals about how growth progressed in the second quarter, but the prolonged Easter/Royal Wedding holiday is likely to ensure that growth remains erratic in the UK for some time to come.

Interest rate expectations were pushed back further last week, and the markets now expect a rate hike (based on Sonia interbank lending rates) in the last quarter of 2011.

This is weighing on the pound against the stronger currencies like the aussie and the euro, but GBP/USD remains very well supported, currently at its highest level since December 2009. We prefer short sterling positions against the aussie and the euro, in particular, as we believe that the dollar will remain under pressure for some time yet as the Fed remains committed to an ultra-loose monetary policy.

Loonie and Kiwi Grounded for Now, But May Soon Take Flight

On Monday, May 2, Canada will take to the polls in parliamentary elections as the minority Conservative party, headed by Prime Minister Harper, defends its run that started back in 2006.

Opinion polls have shown a surge in support for the New Democrats (NDP), considered at one point to be a minor opposition party, over the Liberals, previously the leading opposition party. While both the NDP and the Liberals have pledged to reverse tax reductions of $6.3 billion annually for businesses, the NDP is viewed as favoring more stringent spending and tax hikes. As a result, growing NDP popularity has grounded the loonie relative to other commodity currencies. AUD/CAD reached multi-year highs around 1.0440/45 this past week.

On Thursday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) left its policy rate on hold at 2.5%. While an unchanged official cash rate (OCR) was expected, the overall dovish tone of the accompanying statement took the market by surprise.

The RBNZ noted “higher oil prices and the elevated level of the New Zealand dollar are both unwelcome” and “current policy likely to be appropriate for some time.” The comments were interpreted as a signal that rates would remain low for an extended period of time and sent NZD/USD spiraling lower to below the 0.8000 big figure.

The loonie and kiwi have been grounded this week, but both may be setting up to take off again. While upcoming Canadian elections have weighed on the loonie, we think the ultimate impact is likely to be minimal.

To start, the election is not likely to have any material effects on monetary policy as there has been no mention of exerting political pressure on the Bank of Canada (BOC) in any campaigns. Furthermore, the most likely outcome is for another minority Conservative government despite the current cloud of uncertainty surrounding the elections.

However, there is the risk for the surge in NDP support to translate into an increase in seats, which would likely keep pressure on the loonie. Nevertheless, we think any CAD weakness may provide opportunities to jump on board a future loonie flight, fueled by prospects for BOC tightening on the back of a firm Canadian economic recovery, elevated commodities, and accelerating inflation.

Inflation is picking up pace in New Zealand as well, evidenced by the rise in Q1 CPI to 4.5% from 4.0% year over year (y/y). Price gains may accelerate at an even faster pace on the back of earthquake reconstruction efforts, which is likely to put pressure on the RBNZ to tighten sooner than expected. Accordingly, we think pullbacks in NZD may also be viewed as opportunities to take a cheaper seat on the flight to continued kiwi upside.

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